A “strong” blast of arctic cold has swept across the northeastern United States and parts of Canada, threatening record low temperatures over the weekend.
The US National Weather Service warned on Friday that an “impressive” cold front would drop temperatures 15 to 35 degrees below average on the Fahrenheit scale (7 to 17 Celsius) across a wide swath of the country, from the Upper Mississippi Valley to New England.
“Although this is a short-lived explosion, conditions will be extremely dangerous,” the warning said.
Temperatures are expected to reach -79C (-110F) at the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the highest peak in the northeastern US.
The National Weather Service office in Caribou, Maine, near the Canadian border, warned of “life-threatening snow flurries,” leading to blizzards.
“This is an epic, generational arctic outbreak,” the agency said, adding that “the lowest wind chills in decades or, in some cases, the lowest ever recorded” are expected.
Schools across the Northeast canceled classes on Friday, including in Boston, where the mayor’s office declared a “cold weather emergency” through Sunday.
The Manchester School District in New Hampshire noted that when children were sent home on Thursday, temperatures dropped to -26C (-15F) due to wind chill.
“In these conditions, frostbite can develop in as little as 30 minutes,” the district tweeted. “This is just too cold for students walking home.”
The polar blast also postponed events including the U.S. National Luge Championships, a luge competition held in Camden, Maine, where temperatures were forecast to drop to -37C (-35F) by early Saturday.
Officials across the region have warned of increased risks of hypothermia and other cold-related conditions as temperatures continue to drop.
The low temperatures are associated with cold, dry air being pushed out of Canada, driven by high-altitude currents, Bob Oravec, senior forecaster at the National Weather Service, told the Associated Press.
North of the US border, Canadian authorities have also warned of dangerous conditions.
Wind and extreme cold warnings were in effect for large parts of Atlantic Canada — including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador — and the major cities of Montreal and Toronto were also under extreme cold warnings, according to Environment Canada.
“We’re going to see temperatures that are really, brutally cold,” Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips told CTV News this week. “It really is a one-and-a-half-day miracle.”
Toronto Pearson International Airport is advising travelers to be patient as the cold weather could lead to delays. “If you are traveling, please have some patience [ground crews] they may need to take breaks to warm up,” the airport chirped on Thursday night.
In Montreal, temperatures between -38C and -48C were expected on Friday and Saturday. “Extreme cold puts everyone at risk,” Environment Canada said in a warning Friday morning.
“Conceal. Frostbite can develop within minutes on exposed skin, especially with cold wind,” it said.
A cold weather system is expected to sweep across the Mid-Atlantic region by Saturday before moving up the coast into Sunday. Meanwhile, parts of the Great Lakes and northeastern US are expected to get lake-like snow by Saturday night.
Meanwhile, frost remains in the southern US after an ice storm in the region grounded flights and killed at least 12 people, mostly in car accidents.
Temperatures warmed briefly Thursday before falling back below freezing overnight in parts of Texas, and travelers woke up to dangerously icy roads again.
The Austin, Texas, Department of Transportation said Wednesday it responded to more than 300 crashes in a week and urged drivers to “avoid travel unless absolutely necessary.” An estimated 74 collisions were reported on Wednesday alone.
First responders also continued to receive calls about downed trees and downed power lines across the state, where 240,000 customers were without power early Friday. That’s down from 430,000 outages the previous day, according to the website PowerOutage.us.
“Some customers may be without power for 12-24 hours,” Austin Energy, the city’s publicly owned utility, said on Twitter.
Elton Richards, Austin Energy’s vice president of field operations, told reporters during a news conference Thursday, “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I haven’t seen this much destruction other than the tornadoes up north.”
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, who took office in January, apologized Friday for the power outages that continue to plague the state capital. “The city has failed its citizens. The situation is unacceptable for the community, it is also unacceptable for me,” he said.
However, relief from freezing temperatures is expected soon. Forecasters predicted warming in the south by the weekend. Temperatures in Austin are expected to rise to 22C (71F) by Monday.